4 Everyday Images for the Christ-life

Sometimes it’s hard to explain certain aspects of the Christ-life to our children. Their brains haven’t developed enough to understand complex, intangible concepts. Honestly, some of the same things are hard for us to understand even as adults. Not to worry; we have an excellent role model for these situations in Jesus. He liked to teach using parables and metaphors…imagery drawn from everyday life, and we can do the same.

The best way to use metaphors is situationally:

  1. When your child asks about the spiritual concept
  2. When you feel that your child needs a better understanding of the concept
  3. When you see or experience the tangible parallel

Today I offer you four such images to help you explain your faith to your children. These kinds of conversations create great discipleship opportunities. Praying they are fresh and helpful…

Fireworks / Jesus earthly life and death

Everyday Images 2
Fireworks (c) Carole Sparks

When you watch a professional fireworks show, it’s a thing of beauty, but noisy. You hear the brief thump as the small rocket shoots into the air. Sometimes you can see a trail of sparks following it. Then there’s that millisecond when the individual flame disappears. In silence, you hold your breath. You think it might have been a ‘dud.’ Finally, it explodes in color, light, and sound!

Jesus’ life on earth was like this. A minor thump at his birth (angels, Herod’s search), then a bit of light through his earthly ministry, then silence for those three days in the tomb. Even the disciples thought He might have been a ‘dud.’ But then! Oh, then! The spectacular resurrection that declared victory over every evil and even death itself: energy, celebration, broadcast near and far!

Popcorn / Conforming to the Image of Christ

Everyday Images 1
Popcorn (c) Carole Sparks

Kernels of popcorn are like snowflakes: each one unique but easily recognizable. No one confuses popcorn for bread (because it’s white) or potato chips (because it’s crunchy) or peanuts (because you eat a handful at a time).

In the Church universal, there is incredible diversity—something I love! Each believer is unique; at the same time, believers are all being remade into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Just like we easily recognize popcorn, we recognize each other and those outside the faith recognize authentic believers. Read more about this in my post, Popcorn Conformity.

Walking the Dog / Guidance of the Holy Spirit

I’ve seen memes and commercials where the dog on a leash thinks it walks the owner. I once walked a huge bulldog that pulled me across the grass whether I liked it or not. My own example notwithstanding, it doesn’t matter what the dog thinks. The one holding the other end of the leash is actually in charge. (Sorry, no picture on this one. We don’t have a dog.)

In this example, we’re the dog, the leash is the Holy Spirit, and God is the dog-walker. (It’s not a perfect analogy, but go with me here.) As believers, we can break our connection with the Holy Spirit and run off into the woods, but that’s not the way it’s supposed to work. When we walk in the spirit (Romans 8:3-4), we are led by God Himself. We can’t see Him, and we’re often out in front of Him, so we must be sensitive to those gentle tugs on the leash. That’s how we go where He wants us to go…following but in front…hmm…

Mountain Trail Guide / Obedience

Everyday Images 3
Broken Path (c) Carole Sparks

I like hiking. I don’t do it much, but I like it—that sense of freedom, the cleanliness of the air, the views. It can be scary, though. If a storm comes suddenly or if you lose the path or if the mountain drops off suddenly right beside the trail, you can quickly start to think about your oh-so-safe couch and TV remote. A more strenuous hike sometimes requires that you hire a guide. No one climbs Mt. Everest without guides and a full support team, right?

In our lives as Christ-followers, we’re hiking a fresh section of trail every day. We’ve never been in this exact place before, and sometimes it looks treacherous. But we have a Guide who has been here before (Hebrews 4:15) and a God who knows everything before and behind us. It’s only reasonable that we trust and follow Him. (I’ve also written about this before. See Our Mountain Guide.)

4 Everyday Images for Discipleship in Parenting (click to Tweet)

Fostering Healthy Childhood Self-Esteem -or- Why I Don’t Let My Kids Beat Me at Board Games

I won another game of Settlers of Catan® the other night. When the four of us play, it’s like I can’t lose! Actually, it’s just that I refuse to lose on purpose. Even when the game was CandyLand, I played to the best of my ability (not that there’s much skill involved in CandyLand). Am I a mean and selfish parent who doesn’t care about my children’s feelings? No.

There’s this parenting/education idea floating around that we must do everything in our power to enhance our children’s self-esteems. The reasoning behind this idea is solid: that children should know their inherent worth. The application, however, is often misplaced. Parents and educators praise kids for nothing (I call it ‘plastic praise.’), allow them to “succeed” when they do the minimum, and tiptoe around difficulties in fear of hurting a child’s feelings. As a result, children develop a heightened sense of entitlement with no foundation in real skills or achievement. Lest you think this is just my opinion, a recent Scientific American article linked artificially bloated self-esteem with narcissism.

So I don’t fight to win every board game because I’m hyper-competitive…although I am competitive, but beating a ten-year-old just isn’t that impressive. I try to win because I care more about my children’s character than about their feelings.

3 Attitudes to model when playing games with your kids

  1. Do your best. I want my children to see me try hard because much of what comes easily to me (folding a t-shirt neatly, opening a bottle of water, math homework) is difficult for them. They need to know effort is always honorable and everything doesn’t come easily to adults. They need to internalize Paul’s admonition: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23). Sound a little over-the-top to apply this Scripture to a board game? I think it’s a great place to practice, where the consequences are, well, inconsequential.
  2. Win and lose graciously. Too many professional athletes and other media personalities just don’t know how to win—or lose—well. When my children see my humble response to winning, they learn that it’s okay to be happy but not okay to “rub it in.” When they see my honorable response to losing, they learn how to congratulate someone and be happy for that person even as they experience disappointment themselves. It’s never okay to stomp away, to pout, or to act in anger. We always talk about these things after the game.
  3. Play fairly. We don’t cheat. Period. Because winning is not the most important thing about playing. I would rather loose honestly than win dishonestly. And, if my son wins because I played less-than-my-best, he has won dishonestly—as surely as if he himself cheated. Sure, a board game isn’t a big deal, but look what Jesus said: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10). And this one applies so clearly to parenting: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve” (1 Peter 5:2).

3 Actions to practice when playing games with your kids

  1. Shower kids with praise whether they win or lose. We always encourage a good move, acknowledge improvements since we last played, and look for other specific praise-worthy actions within the game itself and regarding their behavior surrounding the game. This is affirmation, not the plastic praise I mentioned earlier. Then, even when they lose, they walk away confidently, knowing they are loved and safe.
  2. Emphasize the fun and togetherness. The point of playing a board game (or other family-centered activity) is to be together. We play to have fun, which tightens our family bonds. We don’t play for bragging rights or for power.
  3. Give advice throughout the game. I want our children to do as well as possible in the game (even if it means they beat me). This is Biblical; Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” We give each other advice, point out good moves, question bad moves, and generally foster a sense of collaboration despite the competition.

Both of my children are getting much better at Settlers and other games we play. I know the fateful day is coming when one of them actually wins, and his or her sense of accomplishment will go “through the roof!” We’ll probably take a picture for posterity. At that point, I’ll really have to focus on loosing honorably. It will be a good day.

I don’t let my kids beat me at board games -*Gasp!*- because I am more interested in their character than their feelings. (Click to Tweet)

What about you? What counterintuitive parenting approach has proven useful to you? Please! Share below.

9 Good Things My Kids Learn in Public School

Decisions about a child’s education loom large in the mind of every thinking (a.k.a. intentional) parent. I’ve known many parents who lost sleep, wept tears, and passionately prayed about where and/or how to educate their children. While a child’s education path is a big decision, it’s not like you’re giving your child a tattoo. You can change educational formats whenever you need to.

In eight years of formally educating my children, we have experienced every format available except for boarding school: private school, Christian school, homeschool, and public school.  Sometimes the change was the result of a move or shift in circumstances, sometimes it was simply God-directed. Through these many experiences, God has taught me to release the idol of education and place it among my parenting goals, not at the top of my family’s priorities. If my child doesn’t learn to read this year, he will learn next year, and that’s okay. By the time he gets to middle school, it won’t matter. And I’ve never heard anyone say, “If only I had gotten into AP Calculus in high school, my whole life would have turned out differently!” Let’s face it:

  • There is no One Best Way to educate children.
  • That a child learns is far more important than when she learns.
  • Every school environment teaches more than what is gleaned from books.
  • Aside from the fundamentals (reading, writing, basic math), learning how to learn is often more important than what one learns.

In 2014, God very clearly and specifically led us to place our children in public school—one in middle school and one in elementary. Sure, some days are more difficult than they would be if we homeschooled or if they were surrounded by children who shared their Christian worldview. The benefits, however, have been exceptional. While we might see some portion of these benefits in other educational contexts, public school has provided them all…with little added effort on my part. Consider these nine things my kids are learning in public school.

  1. How to interact with different social, economic, ethnic, and religious groups. They constantly rub shoulders with poverty and wealth, agnostics and fundamentalists, recent immigrants and DAR descendants. They are learning to live harmoniously in our multi-ethnic American culture.
  2. How to wait. When they finish their work before others, they must wait quietly. Patience: what a real-life skill to have under their belts!
  3. How to help others through explanation. When they understand something, the teacher will occasionally ask them to help a student who is struggling. This exercises patience, compassion and generosity…not to mention verbal skills in re-explaining.
  4. How to speak up for themselves. In the classroom setting they learn to answer questions with confidence. They learn to express their needs (younger years) and their opinions (older years). Sometimes those opinions don’t correlate with others in the class, so they learn how to defend their position with poise and respect.
  5. How to win and lose graciously. Sometimes their team wins, sometimes it loses. They must “be okay” with either. Sometimes they answer an oral question incorrectly, and they learn to manage the embarrassment. Sometimes they score 100% on every spelling test, and they learn to manage that success without hurting their friends’ feelings.
  6. How to apply Biblical wisdom without adult guidance. In social situations at school, their obedience and faith are tested. The school context provides a safe environment where they can fail without huge consequences—great practice for college and adult life.
  7. How to speak respectfully about their faith. Again, they can succeed and fail in small steps so they gradually learn what Peter meant in 1 Peter 3:15b-16a, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.
  8. How to learn things they don’t really want to learn in ways that aren’t their preferred learning style. Not everything in school is interesting. Not every activity fits my child’s best learning style. He has to learn it anyway, so he learns how to learn even when he isn’t motivated. This is an essential life skill.
  9. How to summarize their experiences and reflect on their days. When the children come home from school, we talk about the good and bad things that happened that day. I don’t need a moment-by-moment account. I need a summary that includes highlights, emotions, and an evaluation of experiences. They are learning to glean wisdom from their own lives.

Every child is unique and every family is different. In the spring, we begin to pray about where/how to educate our children in the next school year. As you pray and plan for the coming year (It’s not too early!), don’t ignore the public school option. It might just be God’s will for your child and family. Then, whatever method of education to which God calls you, embrace it! I support you.

9 Good Things My Kids Learn in Public School: an #IntentionalParenting reflection on God’s intentions for my kids via @Carole_Sparks. #education (click to tweet)

How do/did you make education decision for your child/children? Every family is different–and every child within that family. Let us know in the comments below.

 

Talking About Tragic Events with Kids (Guest Post)

     Hardly a week goes by now that we don't hear about another school/campus shooting. My kids are concerned, sometimes even frightened, and it isn't always easy to answer their questions.
     After the Boston Marathon bombing, my friend, Chester Goad, wrote this post. The event is different and the time of year was different, but his advice readily applies. I hope it helps you walk through these events and emotions with your children. 
     Read about Chester at the end of this post.
(c) Carole Sparks
(c) Carole Sparks
A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret M. Holmes

Today I am taking a break from dyslexia, learning differences, and disabilities to address the tragic events that occurred in Boston at one of America’s most celebrated events. While we stand united in our grief, adults and children alike are all grappling for understanding.

It is important in times like this to remember that individuals respond to grief and difficult circumstances in a variety of ways. Children often try to filter and process what they have seen and heard through questioning. Others remain silent and keep their questions to themselves until they are ready to open up. That is why dialogue is so important. In reality, most school age children will be talking about this national crisis in class tomorrow morning and many are probably already texting through their emotions with close friends. It is also common for discipline problems to rise as students act out as they process their emotions. An extra ounce of grace and understanding is always helpful.

The key to successful, meaningful discussions with children is to allow plenty of time to absorb and discuss the issues. While it is mid-April and many school systems may be reviewing for annual standardized assessments, it is probably wise to take some time away from typical review sessions and allow ample time for group discussions, free-writing activities, and guidance. Encourage students to ask questions and reassure them that their questions and concerns are valid. Of course as the adult or parent you can set any perimeters, but your students or your children need to feel secure and safe to ask whatever may be on their hearts and minds.

The best advice for working through these types of events with children is to 1) communicate, 2) don’t offer more information than is necessary, and 3) gauge your age-appropriate responses carefully. A great rule of thumb for providing an age-appropriate response is to answer each question as deliberately, thoughtfully, and concisely as possible. In other words, don’t read too much into the question. Often, the question is simply the question. If students have more questions, they will ask them. It’s not necessary, and can be counterproductive to provide complicated or emotional responses. In fact, answering questions in a dramatic or provocative way can sometimes only serve to add more fuel to the anxiety students are already feeling.

As the adult, you set the mood in your home or in your classroom. Speak calmly and share your feelings in an honest and sincere way. Students need to see your human side and your strength. They need encouragement and reassurance. Listen to your kids and they will help you guide the conversation where it needs to go. Just remember it’s best to leave it where it goes until more questions are asked. Don’t forget reading books is always therapeutic, and there are many children’s books available that touch on issues of grief and sadly also terrorism. Depending on your belief system, prayer and spiritual discussions are almost always welcome and appreciated during times of grief and trouble. Students are often seeking deeper answers to their ever-deepening questions.

Below I have provided a list of resources for talking through tragedies and difficult circumstances with students. Please join me in lifting Boston, the victims and their families, our nation, and especially our children, up in prayer.

RESOURCES FOR TALKING ABOUT TRAGIC EVENTS WITH KIDS

Talking about the Boston Marathon Explosions CBS

Talking to Kids about Scary Situations MSN

Tragedy and Children NPR (based on the Newtown Shootings)

Talking Violence with Children, National Association of School Psychologists

Boston Marathon, How to Talk to Your Kids about Tragedy, She Knows

Books to Help Kids Talk about Tragedy, GalleyCat (originally compiled for Newtown, CT)

Talking to Kids about Terrorism from American Academy of Pediatrics

Teachers Guide to Grief K-5, PBS

How to Talk to Kids about Tragedy in the Media Parenting Today

Learning from the Challenges of Our Times, New Jersey Schools

When Death Impacts Your School, The Dougy Center

Grief Suggestions for Teachers and Counselors,

Benefits of Play and Age-Specific Intervention, Prepare, Respond, Recover

Tips for Students in Unsettling Times, NASPOnline

The Best Resources For Helping Students Deal With Grief

21 Ways to Comfort Those Who are Suffering, (A great spiritual piece originally written for 9/11)

Resources: Talking and Teaching About The Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut Learning Network.

Unspeakable Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School Edutopia

Helping Children Cope with Traumatic Events Share My Lesson.

How to talk to kids about violence is by Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post.

Dr. Steven Marans: Talking to children about violence

Talk to Your Kids About the Recent Violence  ABC News.

Kids, the Media and Tragedy: 5 Lessons I Learned From Columbine

chester goad smiling wearing glassesChester Goad is founder of The Edventurist blog, an adult living with ADD, a university administrator, writer, speaker, and disability advocate, who is committed to making life better and more fun for people with attention deficit and dyslexia. He is a licensed teacher, former school principal, and former youth pastor. Connect with Chester at www.chestergoad.com.

 

 

Update 7.12.16: With even more tragic news now, ChristianParenting.org recently added How to Talk to Kids When Bad Things Happen. Check it out for age-specific advice.

The Unlecture

Reading Mark 9:33-37.

At the store with the kids

Jesus and the disciples are walking, as usual. (It feels a bit like that first Hobbit movie: walking with beautiful scenery, bit of action, walking with talking, more walking, freaky monsters to overcome, walking again, etc.) This time, their destination is Capernaum, Peter and Andrew’s hometown. On the way, the disciples get into a hushed but heated discussion—one that they don’t necessarily want Jesus to hear.

“Just wait ‘til we get home!”

Nevertheless, the moment they walk through the door of that house in Capernaum, before they even sit down, Jesus turns his piercing eyes toward them and asks the question they least want to answer: “What were you arguing about on the road?”

Silence. The disciples look at each other, shrug their shoulders, look at Jesus, and adopt their most innocent “Who me?” faces. (Yeah, you and I both know what that’s like.) No one answers. Not even Peter, if you can believe it. You see, they knew Jesus well enough by now that they could guess what topics would displease him, and this one—about seniority and position—would certainly be on the disapproved list. (In the disciples defense, all that “last shall be first” stuff hadn’t been said yet.) It’s obvious that Jesus knows the answer to His question and that He just wants them to confess. Still, they hesitate.

Time for the lecture

Here’s where it really gets interesting, and where we can extract a fantastic parenting application.

Rather than wagging his index finger in front of their noses and commencing Lecture #47 on Servant Leadership, Jesus looks for a comfy chair. Having taken a moment to breathe, He calmly makes a simple statement of truth (v. 35):

Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.

Obviously, it’s easy to remember. Most of us learned it back when we were kids. Jesus, being so very wise, stops there. I don’t know about you, but I always feel the need to elaborate or at least repeat myself a couple of times to be sure I was heard . . . like maybe I have to say it once for each ear of each child in attendance. Sometimes I even repeat, “Do you understand?”

But Jesus just looks around for a tangible example. Let’s see, there’s a door . . . no, some dusty sandals . . . no, the sunlight through the window . . . nice but no. Oh, here we go: a few children (maybe Peter’s kids) are leaning on the wall over there, watching wide-eyed, trying to remain unnoticed. Jesus calls one of them over. Taking his (or her) hand, he pulls the child into the circle. That must have been a little frightening because then Jesus wraps His arms around the child in a comforting hug. Thus this anonymous child becomes the unforgettable object lesson. Without saying “no” or “you’re wrong,” Jesus challenges their thinking—even their worldview. (It would be interesting to dig into what He said and what it meant, but that’s not the point here. Maybe some other time . . .)

A Better Way

I think you get my point, but let me say it plainly just in case. The Proverbs (15:1) say, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” If we can control our own tempers . . . if we can seek our children’s good rather than our own justification . . . if we sincerely want them to learn and change at the heart level, we will follow Jesus’ example. Here’s the step-by-step:

  1. Pose the issue, preferably with a question.

I’ve heard it said that we all answer with our hearts first, and that answer is always honest, regardless of what we say.

  1. Proffer a simple, memorable statement of truth.

Bible verses work well here, but don’t use the Bible as an instrument of punishment. (I’ve written more about that *here*.)

  1. Present an object lesson to reinforce your point.

Just look around, asking the Holy Spirit to guide you in the moment. I know of no other advance preparation that will work here.

  1. Pause.

After you make your point, let it rest there. Let them change the subject if they want to. That’s what happened to Jesus. In the next verse (Mark 9:38), John tries to divert Jesus’ attention.

  1. Place the ‘object’ in a prominent position.

While Jesus allows the change of topic, it’s clear that these ideas of children and of servant leadership are still on His mind at least through the end of the next chapter. Place your ‘object’ from the object lesson somewhere visible, where your children will pass it several times a day. They’ll get the message.

In the World (by means of movies)

A few obvious facts:

  1. We live in this world, like it or not.
  2. Much of this world is . . . well, worldly.
  3. God placed us in this world at this time. He placed our children here, too.
  4. The phrase “in the world but not of the world” is not in the Bible. Wait . . . This phrase is of the Bible but not in the Bible.  Haha!

Without doubt, we are raising our children in a wicked and depraved generation.  The other day, I was shocked—SHOCKED, I tell you!—by something I saw on television, and we’ve been back in the US for almost a year.  Our first tendency, justifiably, is to shield our children from any media that might pollute their pristine minds.  For the small ones, I wholeheartedly agree.  Ours didn’t watch actual television until after they started elementary school.  Before that, they had only pre-screened videos for their viewing pleasure.

As our children mature, however, our parenting must evolve.  We cannot continue to shield our children from everything that contradicts our worldview.  We have to teach our older children how to exist in this world, polluted as it is, and how to interact with people—sometimes powerful/influential people—who espouse a different worldview.  Inevitably, little Susie will watch something somewhere that doesn’t correspond to our distinct worldview.  How will she deal with it?  Not-so-little Sam will eventually read a book that questions the values you have worked so hard to instill in him.  How will he respond?  If you parent from your gut, you may teach them, “These things are bad!  Don’t watch/read/listen!”  Then, when Susie inadvertently sees the ‘bad’ thing, she will hide it from you because she might get in trouble.  When Sam intentionally reads the second book in the series because, well, his parents will never find out about the content, his curiosity has led him down a dangerous path.

Instead of parenting from your gut, what if you parent from your mind?  What if you train your children to evaluate everything they see, read, and hear in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  What if you prepare them in advance to healthily handle and respond to the media?  It’s called critical thinking.

Hear me correctly here.  I’m not advocating R-rated movies for nine-year-olds.  You know your children.  You know what their minds can safely handle and what their hearts can endure.  Plus, the MPAA ratings tell you almost nothing.  Better to check out Focus on the Family’s PluggedIn, IMDB’s parental guide (find the guide within each movie’s write-up), or Kids-n-Mind—great sites to better evaluate movies before you watch them.  (My husband and I do this for ourselves.  Parents must guard their own hearts too!)  Our first-born is more sensitive than our second.  Number Two has watched movies that number One hasn’t, but at the same time, One has watched more mature movies that we’re not comfortable showing to Two.

Anyway, over the last five years, we’ve developed a standard set of questions that follow just about every movie we watch as a family.  (We use it sometimes with books and music, but that’s more difficult unless everyone in the family reads the same book.  Random recommendation for that to happen:  The Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland.  We all love all of them!)  Someone usually starts the questioning over dinner the next night.  These questions have opened the gates for excellent discussions and spiritual growth using the world, being in the world but examining it as one set-apart (2 Corinthians 7:1).  Recently, I’ve heard both my children apply the same kinds of questions to books they read and movies they watch at school or friends’ homes.

1.  What did you like best about the movie? What was your favorite scene?

This is an easy ‘in’—a way to start talking about the movie that isn’t challenging.

2.  What didn’t you like?

Same idea.  Verbalizing the negative aspects of the movie helps us put it in perspective and increases their emotional vocabulary.  Why they didn’t like something is important.

3.  What character acted like Jesus?

This is a fascinating question.  Sometimes the hero is clearly the Christ-like one, but sometimes the villain has a moment of kindness that we notice only because we ask these kinds of questions.  If the movie was any good, we end up evaluating most all of the main characters and finding Truth in interesting places.  This question also challenges what the children know about Jesus and his behavior on earth.

4.  Who acts in an unchrist-like way?

Same thing here—great discussion.  Perhaps the hero/ine did something for noble reasons, but the ends couldn’t justify the means.  Perhaps the villain acts from a sense of revenge or vengeance which seems right on the surface, but in reality, contradicts our calling as Christ-followers.  If we can get down that far—to motive—we’ve really accomplished something in our discussion.

5.  What is the message of the movie? What point does this movie make?  Is that message/point something with which we agree as Christ-followers?

Honestly, every movie is “selling” a point-of-view, but sometimes it’s subtle.  If we don’t guard our hearts and minds, those viewpoints will seep in and cause all of us to slip away from real Truth.  By recognizing the message, we put it in an appropriate place in our minds rather than letting it affect us blindly.

At some point, one of us parents will insert a discussion of anything questionable, especially issues of violence, sex, death, or other “mature” themes.

What are we saying/modeling to our children by having these discussions?

1.  We can participate in this world and be entertained like our friends without accommodating the culture to the point of assimilation.

Having seen a popular movie, the children aren’t left out of discussions.  They don’t have to say, “My family didn’t watch that movie because we love Jesus,”—a judgmental statement whether you mean it that way or not! Instead, they have a chance (if they are willing to take it) to bring Jesus into an everyday conversation with a statement such as, “I liked [insert character’s name] because he acted like Jesus when he [insert situation from movie].”  What a fantastic opportunity for them to non-confrontationally share Christ!

2.  There are Truths, bridges, and images of God in most everything around us. We can dig them out, and they will help us understand God, ourselves, and the world around us.

3.  We can know what we believe and interact with those who don’t believe the same things without losing ourselves in their world. We are the foreigners here.

4.  We can recognize what is distinctive about our faith and distinguish faith issues from morality or just “being good.”

Just so you know, these conversations aren’t necessarily heavy or serious.  Listen in on this one, which came after watching Frozen.

Daughter:  You know,  Princess Elsa and the Incredible Hulk are similar.

Everyone else:  (with surprise)  What?

Daughter:  They both have a gift—or curse—that they can’t control, and they are afraid of hurting the person they love the most.

Everyone else:  Hmm.

Daughter:  Yeah, so they run away, but they are pursued by people who fear them but want to control them.  Then in the end, the person they love helps them come to terms with their gift or curse, whichever you want to call it.

Me:  Wow.

We were floored–Elsa and the Hulk?  Really?  And yet she was completely right.  Granted, it’s no great spiritual break-through, but it’s the kind of critical-thinking, dot-connecting exercise that will help her understand God better and do well as an adult.

This job of raising Christ-followers is no easy task.  Our set of critical-thinking questions is just one way to let a bit of “the world” into our home on our terms, with our limits and oversight, gradually preparing our children for this 21st-century world they have been called to inhabit.

Wait, Wait, Don’t TELL Me*

If you’ve read any posts on this blog, you know that I’m a big advocate of talking to with your children—even the young ones (though the reasons are different when they are younger).  Talk about anything and everything.  And listen, listen, listen.

There are a couple of topics, however, about which we parents find it difficult to talk and the kids find it . . . awkward to listen.  Procreation is a big one.  Drug use is another topic with which parents struggle (sometimes because it means revealing their own histories).  Turns out, some parents also find it difficult to have authentic conversations about spiritual things.  So I thought it would be helpful to lay out some thoughts on discipling our children.  That’s why I choose this title.  Were they to speak with the wisdom of the ages, our children would say, “Wait, wait, Mom/Dad.  Don’t just tell me how to follow God.  Don’t just deliver a carefully-prepared lecture or a cleverly-constructed argument.  Work through all this with me!”  Because really, it’s about discipleship, not about unloading information.  You can’t have one God Talk and consider that topic covered.  (You shouldn’t have just one Sex Talk or one Drugs Talk either, by the way.)  Similarly, your kids don’t know what questions to ask about sex or drugs—at least we hope they don’t—so those ‘talks’ necessitate lots of information transfer.  But if you are taking them to church, maybe having family devotions, maybe praying over them, at least saying a blessing before you eat, then they already know enough to ask and/or answer questions about faith.

So.  Here are four thoughts/consideration/points on “Discipleship Begins at Home” (which was almost the title of this post, but it’s not nearly as good!)

1.  Elbow out spaces of intimacy with your children.

Sometimes you have to subtly fight for this.  Where can you grasp two minutes to speak Truth into your child’s life?  It might be in the car.  Turn off the radio and ask him or her to stop playing the game or reading the book.  It might be just before bed, and it’s partially a delaying technique, but it if you get a good talk, who cares?  It might be over the table at a meal time.  If you have already found a fantastic, regularly-occurring time to talk intimately with your child(ren), please share it in the comments.

This is an intentional thing, but the less formal you make it, the better.  Saying “Son, we need to have a talk” just sets you up for awkwardness and silence.  If this priority means you have to lay aside a personal project or rearrange your schedule a bit, it’s worth it!    See #3 and #4 for how to actually start talking when you get a little space.

2.  Make spiritual things a part of your regular conversations—whether the kids participate or not.

This is important.  It creates an environment in which spiritual life is an acceptable topic of conversation or discussion.  This was Moses’ point in Deuteronomy 6:6-7.  He said, These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.   First, you talk about what is on your own heart or mind.  Second, you talk as you go about the normal routines of life.  From the time they are very young, your children understand conversations you have with your spouse.  Make a point of casually talking about your spiritual walk in front of them even when they aren’t actively involved in the conversation.  And don’t shy away from the things you struggle with (when appropriate).

  • Were you really challenged by something the pastor said?  Talk about it.  You probably won’t get any resolution, but that’s okay.
  • Are you working to understand a particular passage of Scripture?  You’re certainly not the first.
  • Do you know how to get answers?  Model that as well.
  • Did God bless you today?  He’ll get even more glory when you celebrate the story with your family.
  • What are you praying for?  Let your children see you learning to wait on the Lord and dealing with answers that weren’t exactly what you expected.  Let them always see you trusting God . . . or maybe working to trust Him more fully.
3.  No lectures.

Don’t just tell your kids about God or Jesus.  Don’t tell them what is right and what is wrong.  (I’m talking about double-digit-aged kids here.  Little kids need clear guidance on right and wrong.)  Engage them in Christ-centered conversations that are peppered with prayer.  When Joey gets brave enough to talk about the girl at school who sits beside him and cusses, pray with Joey for that girl before you ever give any advice.  Then ask Joey what he thinks Jesus wants him to do.  He may have no clue—especially the first time your conversation goes this way.  When you affirm his desire to honor Christ, however, he becomes more willing to hear from you.  Let him know that you trust the power of God in him.  Then, make a few reasonable suggestions that reflect that power.  Continue to pray for him, and follow up in the next few days with encouraging questions and further support.

4.  Ask random questions.

Start on Sunday.  Ask each child what they talked about in their Sunday school (or whatever you call it) classes.  If this gets you nothing but blank stares, give an advance warning for the next week:  “Hey guys, pay attention in class today because I’m going to ask you about it later.”  That’s not hard or high-pressured, so don’t turn it into a fact-finding mission.  Your goal is conversing, not receiving a report.  Whatever your child says about that day’s topic, respond thoughtfully, perhaps from something in your own study or life.  You may have to say, “Hmm.  That’s interesting.  How did you get that conclusion from that topic?”  But keep your tone friendly.  He or she may have a valid point that just takes a little explanation.  Just don’t attack or ridicule–no matter what!

You could also bring up a point from the pastor’s talk and ask what they think.  Don’t pick the most guilt-ridden point as if you are trying to point fingers at the problems in their lives.  Pick something that really made you think.  Then, if they don’t have any comments, you can at least share your own thoughts.  If your child is in youth group, I’m sure the youth leader would LOVE to text or e-mail you with the week’s topic; then you could ask more specific questions.  For example, “I heard that Steve talked about not lying in youth worship.  What did you think?  Did he say anything particularly good?”

Ask about books they are reading or movies they’ve watched.  Ask about their quiet times, about the spiritual state of their friends, about what’s on their minds.  Form your questions so that the possible answers do not include ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  It’s not, “Did you do your quiet time?” but rather “What did you read in your quiet time?  What do you think about that?  Do you see a way to apply it in your life today?”  It will probably be awkward at first, but if you refrain from judging their answers, they will feel more comfortable about sharing more and more later.  They might even begin to look forward to it.

You have the right and the responsibility to hold your children accountable.  You can’t force them into spiritual growth, but you can create a healthy environment in which it happens.

5.  Here’s a free one: Pray Scripture over your children.  Out loud.  In front of them.  When they are awake.  (I like to lay hands on my kids and pray for them while they sleep, but that’s not discipleship.)  Let them hear you claim the promises of Christ in their lives.  It will give them the confidence to claim His promises for themselves.  You don’t have to memorize it; have your Bible open in front of you.  One of my favorites is Ephesians 1:17-20 (or 23) NIV.

 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you [my child] the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms . . .

Someone might say, “But my child isn’t a Believer yet.”  So?  That doesn’t change anything I’ve written here.  In fact, an increased openness to spiritual conversations in your home may help your child feel the freedom to talk/ask about following Christ specifically.

When you live like this, you are modeling the Christ-life in a way that lets your children know that it’s okay to be on-the-way, with no expectations of having already arrived.  And just so you know, we haven’t actually accomplished all this in our home.  We’re on-the-way too.

 

*This is the title of a hilarious quiz show on NPR.  It’s my favorite way to get news!

Are They Really Saved?

06-30 spice farm 18
starfruit tree – 2012

Someone said to me recently (not an exact quote), “I want to make sure my children are really saved before they are baptized,” and this comment got me to thinking . . . Jesus said, a tree is recognized by its fruit (Matthew 12:32). But what about when the tree is still a sapling?  What fruit blossoms on so young a tree?  Similarly, can we document any evidence that our children have “accepted Christ”? Should we even try?  I’ve heard enough salvation stories to know that we give too much credence to a moment of salvation when, for most of us, it’s a process with perhaps a documentable occasion when we realize what we already believe.  If you fall very strongly on the predestination side of things, you might even take issue with that.  For the sake of this blog post, let’s assume that people accept Christ and become saved (with God always knowing they would accept) or that our children are predestined for salvation partly because God gave them to us, and we are His chosen ones.  Whatever.  Read this through your own theological lens.  It will still be relevant. Is it any of our business?  It also needs to be said at the outset that it’s really not our job to judge some else’s salvation state. The Scriptures say, Judge nothing before the appointed time; . . . at that time each will receive their praise from God (1 Corinthians 4:5).  Even with our children, God calls/chooses them personally.  But I can appreciate what this guy in the first paragraph was saying.  It’s our job to guard our children’s hearts (Prov 4:23), to guide them along the right paths for His Name’s sake (Ps 23:3), to help them get things in the right order and understand the sacraments of our faith (Deut 6:7).

But first, some thoughts on children and salvation . . .

The question in our house was never one of belief in the historicity of Jesus or His actions. I think my children were always comfortable with the fact that Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected so that we can be forgiven and join Him in Heaven (probably because we presented it as an unquestionable fact, along the same lines as “The sky is blue.”).  The challenge we put before each of them, and thus the way we mark their “salvation”, revolved around this life.  Knowing that eternal life starts now, we would ask, “Are you ready to make Jesus the boss of your life?”  This is the more difficult—and more relevant—question.  The five-year-old who wishes she could boss herself and already feels like she has too many other bosses (parents, teachers, etc.), doesn’t necessarily want to add yet another boss to the list even though she truly wants to go to Heaven.  As our four/five-year-old came to understand the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice and the peace with which we (her parents) lived in the here-and-now, committing this life to Jesus became more acceptable.  By the way, it wasn’t a once-off thing; there were many conversations—all started by her.

What you may see when children accept Christ’s Lordship

If children grow up in a Christ-centered home, they learn right and wrong from the outset. Typically, they don’t lie (often), steal (much), hit their siblings (very hard), or intentionally disobey (in the big things).  They haven’t lived long enough to need forgiveness or freedom for any “big” sins (It’s our scale that labels it ‘big’, by the way.), nor do they have any sinful habits such as swearing or pornography.  So when they “accept Christ,” we can’t expect any major behavioral changes.  In our home, I saw two significant attitude changes that confirmed their declarations of faith.  This happened with both our children.

  1. Contrition. When they sin—and they still do—the Holy Spirit convicts them, and they feel sorry about it. Not sorry about getting caught but sorry about the words/action.  My son comes to me saying, “Mom, I need to confess something.”  We sit down together and talk through his actions and his heart.  Sometimes, there is discipline, but more often than not, I can see that he understands his sin and truly feels sorry, so there’s no need for further reinforcement.
  2. Compassion. Children are inherently selfish. (Most of us never grow out of it, actually.)  After they began to follow Christ, I saw my children become more considerate of others—especially the feelings of others.  Sometimes they see the results of their harsh words before someone corrects them; sometimes they choose to forgive others without being asked; sometimes they stand up for a weaker child or comfort a lonely child or have patience with a difficult child on the playground.

Sure, you can teach compassion, and perhaps you can even bring your child to a point of contrition, but after my children made Jesus “the boss of their lives,” I saw a significant change in these areas without any change in my parenting. Such growth confirmed to me that God was working in their hearts. Feel like you need to have this conversation with your child?  Consider starting with Luke 9:23.

Then he said to them all: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

  • said to them all – He said this to everyone around Him—not just a select few. In Mark 8:34, He actually calls the crowd over to hear Him.
  • wants to be my disciple – It starts with wanting to follow Jesus.
  • deny themselves – Think less about yourself and more about what pleases God.
  • take up their cross” – There are duties and hardships involved in being an authentic Christian. It’s not going to be easy.
  • daily – The parallels of this verse (Matt 16:24 and Mark 8:34) don’t say ‘daily’, but the rest of Scripture bears out its relevance. Following Christ is not a one-time, prayed-a-prayer, good-to-go kinda deal.
  • follow me – Do what He says—the Holy Spirit leads in a way that is consistent with the Word.

Now don’t hold this verse up to your child like a gauge or checklist.  Don’t hang it beside the how-much-you’ve-grown marks on the wall. It’s a place to begin talking about what it means to be an authentic follower of Christ. Sometimes, my children still massively “blow it” . . . but so do I. All of us live with sin even after you put to death . . . whatever belongs to your earthly nature (Colossians 3:5).  Even the Apostle Paul said, I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do (Romans 7:15).  We cannot expect perfection from our believing children, but it’s safe to expect—and even look for—change as the Holy Spirit produces His Fruit (Gal 5:22-23) in them. So maybe saplings can bear fruit.

Where My Kids At?

I refuse to accept the premise that, in modern society, all teenagers rebel. I remember reading somewhere, or maybe hearing, that teenage rebellion is a modern construct, rarely seen in society before the 20th century.  (If anyone has a reference for this, please share it in the comments below.)  That means it is not an essential part of growing up.  Therefore, I am conducting a long-term experiment on my own children.

There’s a really funny YouTube video about the Toyota Sienna. If you haven’t seen the “Swagger Wagon,” check it out *here*.  At one point, they speak-sing, “Where my kids at?  Where my kids at?” Then the husband turns around to his wife and says, “No seriously, honey, where are the kids?”  (In the interest of full disclosure, I was dragged into the purchase of a Toyota Sienna—our second minivan—but I decided to embrace it and ‘own’ this country-singers-cover-Motley-Crue and rap music-sells-minivans state of my life now.  You know what I mean.)

It seems to me that many parents turn around one day when their children are fifteen or sixteen and say, “Where are my sweet little children that used to tell me everything? Why do they seem so closed?  Why do they demand but never give?”  Here’s my theory:  We really ‘lost’ our kids a long time before this.  Stick with me here.  I need to paint a picture.

Back when they were babies, we had to do everything for them. Just in the everyday acts of changing diapers, putting on clothes, giving baths, and feeding green peas, we engaged them in conversation (albeit stream-of-conscience, entirely one-sided, and utterly inane) and gave them significant amounts of attention.  On top of that, we spent one-on-one time reading to them, talking to them, singing to them and whatever else the pediatrician-of-the-day said was good for their cognitive and muscular development.  (Baby yoga anyone?)  We talked to them almost constantly and thrilled to hear them utter semi-coherent monosyllabic words.  “He said ‘Mama’—I’m sure of it!”

When they became slightly more independent, they still required a great deal of attention from us: “Which video do you want to watch?”  “No, you can’t wear your Superman costume to Sunday School, and yes, you have to wear underwear.”  We imbibed the deluge of information propounding that these were the critical years, so we read to them religiously because it was essential to brain development, and we showed education videos in very limited quantities.  (Baby Einstein made how many millions?)  They still needed help with the hard things–like wiping their bums or washing their hair.  And let’s just be honest, they didn’t have a lot of independent thoughts beyond their immediate wants and needs.  “Need-a go potty!” is not a great conversation starter.  If there was a conversation of any significance, the parent started it; the parent controlled it; the parent finished it.  We enjoyed their increasing independence . . . partly because we might actually get to wash our own hair without interruption.  As a matter of fact, Elmo’s World was the background music of my quiet time for at least two years.

But then they started school. Not long after that, they began choosing their own clothes and even (occasionally) blowing their own noses.  They could make choices about what to play.  They could read.  What does a ‘good parent’ do at this critical juncture?  Up to this point, being a good parent meant serving them.  It was a physical, measurable thing.  But now they don’t need us for those things.  So we substitute, staying in that gear where good parenting equals meeting physical needs.  How do we make that tangible?  We drive them to music lessons, ball practice, martial arts, children’s choir, and too many birthday parties to count.  We push them to eat their broccoli and minimize desserts.  We forbid rated-R movies and check their video games at Plugged-In.  We feel like we’re doing the right thing.

Suddenly at this stage, they have things they want to talk about. But those things are BORING.  I do not have and have never had a favorite DC Comics superhero and I have absolutely no interest in debating the superiority of DC over Marvel.  I can’t tell the difference between this Barbie and that one.  I don’t CARE who pushed whom on the playground, as long as it wasn’t my kid.  Plus, they tend to tell the same story over and over.  So we turn them off.  We tune them out.  Now we’re the ones offering mono-syllabic responses at what we hope are appropriate interludes.  Or we interrupt them with entirely unrelated questions such as, “Did you feed the dog?” or “What happened to this homework paper?  Was there a flood at school today?”  It doesn’t take them long to catch on to our lack of interest.  Their fall-back position is naturally selfish, namely, Mom and Dad are here to serve me:  supply my needs, give me everything I want, and take care of my problems for me.  It’s not that we quit talking to our kids.  It’s that we don’t quit talking long enough to listen.  We preach.  Go ahead; admit it.  Even that line above about the flood at school was veering toward the ‘preachy’ side.  So either they carry on one-sided conversations or we do, when what they really need is dialogue, a.k.a. ‘convos’ (my eleven-year-old just informed me of this slang).

Eventually, they become teenagers. (Okay, this is where I have to combine the overheard experiences of others because we’re not quite there in my house.  Like I said, this is an on-going experiment.)  The fact that they are learning to think for themselves is GOOD.  We want that.  It’s kinda the point of growing up.  And we give them more freedoms because that’s what you’re supposed to do.  However, they have been operating more-or-less independently for a few years now—at least emotionally and relationally—with Mom and Dad functioning as little more than stagehands while the kids “strut and fret their hour upon the stage” (sorry, Shakespeare).  But now, the consequences have increased.  They can drive.  They can get pregnant (or get someone pregnant).  They have access to all sorts of not-good-for-them things.  And sometimes, even the good kids make really bad choices.

Where are we, the parents, when something happens? We say, “What were you thinking?  Why didn’t you talk to me about that first?  You know you can talk to me about anything!” And we mean it.  We really do, but for years we have inadvertently judged their conversations as irrelevant.  Thus, our words carry no weight . . . or worse, they sound hypocritical.

If the teenage child could really voice what is in his heart, he might say this: “Oh yeah?  You haven’t listened to me since I was eight.  Why should I think you wanted to hear about this?  I thought your job was to take care of me and drive me around while I figured all this out by myself.”

At this point, we must all resist the temptation to say, “Well, I wiped your dirty butt!” because that fact is not a valid reason for him to listen to you now.  Sorry.

We CANNOT let our children think that they have to figure out the world on their own! How horribly lonely and scary for them . . . how parentally disappointing of us.  Perhaps some of what we call rebellion is actually their ignorant (in the best possible sense of the word) attempts to wrangle their tempestuous lives.

I heard Josh McDowell say, “Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.” (I don’t remember where I read this, and someone else said they heard it from another person, so I don’t know the actual source of the quote.  Again, happy for someone to clarify in the comments below.)  In David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell observes, “People who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice—that if they speak up, they will be heard.”*

My hypothesis is this: If I can stay conversationally and intimately engaged in the lives of my kids through these not-so-interesting years, perhaps it will pay off in teenagers who are used to talking to me about their lives . . . and listening to me.  Maybe that will help.

So, for the record, my favorite DC superhero is Black Widow; I have my reasons, if you want to hear them sometime. I prefer NERF Elite weapons over Zombie Strike (because I don’t like anything having to do with zombies).  And I can tolerate exactly two episodes of Madagascar Penguins before I feel like my brain is melting.  When the day-to-day thought processes of my eight-year-old become too ridiculous for me to fathom, I think back to that night last week when we had this really great conversation about how God was never born and has always existed.  I WILL stay engaged in his life so that, when the challenges increase and the fingers of independence begin to squeeze on his heart, he has someone to walk beside him and help him “figure out” this crazy world.

 

 

*Full quote: “Legitimacy is based on three things.  First of all, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice—that if they speak up, they will be heard.  Second, the law has to be predictable.  There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today.  And third, the authority has to be fair.  It can’t treat one group differently from another.”  from David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell. New York:  Little Brown, 2013. 207-208.   Gladwell points out the application for parenting.